Shane Richie is on familiar ground as Archie Rice in The Entertainer

PLAYING a stand-up comic who is out of tune with his audience should be a doddle for Shane Richie – the former EastEnders star says so himself.

He’s about to take on the stage role of the washed-up Archie Rice in a new production of John Osborne’s The Entertainer, which can be both hilarious and heartbreaking.

WASHED-UP STAND-UP: Shane Richie plays Archie Rice in The Entertainer at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

The action has been moved from the 1950s to the 1980s, but the themes of a failing star performing to audiences looking for a different style of comedy hasn’t changed – and Shane says he knows exactly how Archie feels.

“Unlike a lot of the actors that have played this part before me, like Sir Laurence Olivier or Kenneth Branagh – there is no denying that they are wonderful actors – but they have never done stand-up,” he explains.

“They’ve never stood on a stage, in a club or at Butlins when kids are doing knee-slides in front of you, there’s someone playing on the fruit machines or waiting for bingo to get started. I have.

“I’ve been that comedian and I’ve stood there doing my thing for all these people who have come to see Little and Large or Jimmy Cricket, and I’ve died because this audience had been fed a staple diet of your Jim Davidsons, your Bernard Mannings, your Jim Bowens.

“That’s all they knew, so I would have to go and perform material which was totally not right for them, and died. So I know. I know what it’s like, I know who Archie Rice is, I know how it feels inside and I know what it’s like to be dead on stage.”

“I’ve had beer bottles thrown at me in Colchester,” he laughs. “I remember in Wales, coming off stage, I was 19 or 20, and back then you had to do three half-hour spots. I remember doing this particular club, going on and doing the material that I was doing then and just dying a death. No one was interested, they were just talking.

“I remember getting changed in the dressing room in between spots and there was a duo there too, and the average age of the duo was dead. And one of them said, ‘Hey, if you don’t mind me saying, I don’t think you’re very funny’. He said, ‘Do you know any Tom Jones? Why don’t you go and sing because you’re not very funny.’

“So I remember going on and singing Rock Around the Clock and a load of old Elvis songs, just so I could get paid.

“This is back in the day when you’d arrive in the middle of nowhere, find a phone box, ring the agent and they would tell you there and then if you were working or not, then you’d have to find some digs for the night. So I know who Archie Rice is, and that’s him.”

In The Entertainer the story is set against the backdrop of the Falklands War of 1982, and  the satirical new world of alternative comedy has dismissed Archie’s style of humour and his act as old–fashioned, even offensive. The mother-in-law joke has been outlawed and a generation of entertainers like Archie have suddenly found themselves irrelevant.

Shane, who played Robin Hood in panto at Woking two years ago and is also a Surrey resident, landed the Archie role thanks to director Sean O’Connor, who worked with him as a story editor on EastEnders.

“I was in my mid-forties then. Sean was still in his early fifties and he said to me, ‘Are you familiar with John Osborne’s The Entertainer?’ And, of course, I was. That amazing performance by Sir Laurence Olivier, a great movie, and he said, ‘Because one day you will make a great Archie Rice’.

“So, we jump 12 years ahead and last year we’re chatting, and he said, ‘How do you fancy having a go at this?’ I said, ‘I’d love to…’”

Shane Richie will star in The Entertainer at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Monday (23 September) until Saturday 28 September.

For the full story get the 19 September edition of the News & Mail

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